NBA Teams That Need a Full Rebuild This Offseason
NBA fortunes can change overnight.
Sometimes the stars align—literally, in a two- or three-star conglomerate—and an also-ran transforms into a top-flight title contender. That's the fun kind of basketball metamorphosis.
Not to drag the room down, but that's not the type of restructuring we're here to discuss.
Rather, we're focused on the other end of the spectrum: the rebuild.
It's one of the most daunting—and, if improperly handled, haunting—challenges in all of sports. It's a public admission that what you're doing isn't working and the formula is broken beyond repair.
For the following four teams, the 2021 offseason is the time to make that admission and get the ball rolling on an organizational overhaul.
The Indiana Pacers are objectively...meh.
Heading into Sunday, they sat 19th in winning percentage (.473) and 16th in net efficiency (minus-0.3). After 2,670 minutes this season, they have scored 22 fewer points than their opponents.
Maybe those numbers don't immediately spark alarm sirens, but for a club that has made a pair of coaching changes amid a five-year run of first-round exits, the walls of mediocrity might have this franchise feeling claustrophobic.
How do the Pacers escape the NBA's middle class? Great question. The Circle City has never been a draw in free agency. Even if it was, Indy already has six eight-figure salaries on the books for next season and four $18 million-plus salaries owed for 2022-23.
Potential avenues for internal improvement are few and far between. Only three of Indy's rotation regulars are under the age of 25: Domantas Sabonis (who turns 25 in May), Aaron Holiday (who turns 25 in September and hasn't had a great season) and Goga Bitadze (who isn't averaging 10 minutes per game for his career).
Having a healthy T.J. Warren—who effectively lost this season to a foot surgery—would help some, but the next person who sees the Pacers as being a healthy Warren away from title contention will be the first.
The Sabonis-Myles Turner frontcourt isn't working (minus-1.1 net rating in 1,040 minutes). The lack of a superstar caps the team's ceiling and torpedoes even uber-optimistic title hopes. The prospect shortage means the outstanding issues won't fix themselves.
Unless the Pacers are content with making brief playoff cameos, it's time to change the formula. Trade a big, shed another big-money player (or two) and aim for the kind of draft picks or prospects who could eventually become the top-shelf talent this team doesn't have.
Portland Trail Blazers
This one is tough to write for a couple of reasons.
For starters, there aren't many more entertaining teams to watch than the Portland Trail Blazers when Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have it rolling on offense. Considering that duo contributes more than 50 points per game between them, it happens more often than not.
Secondly, questions about a possible Blazers' blow-up have lingered for years and have always drawn the same response from the franchise: Ain't happening.
"The odds of anything ever coming up of commensurate value is so hard to even fathom," Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey said in 2017, via NBC Sports Northwest. "I could give you the trite answer that 'Nobody is untradeable,' but clearly they are."
That's relatively understandable given their talent level, but what's the end game?
Sure, championship chasing is the obvious aim, but how is that remotely realistic? The Blazers, who have been knocked out of the first round in three of the past four years, are seeded an unspectacular sixth in the West and fortunate to even be that high. They have a negative scoring differential on the season and rank 15th in the category overall.
The defense is a disaster (29th in efficiency), and the sixth-ranked offense can only do so much to mask the stench from that dumpster fire. Third-leading scorer Norman Powell needs a new contract after this season. So do fourth-leading scorer (and 36-year-old) Carmelo Anthony, former possible-cornerstone prospect Zach Collins, backup big man Enes Kanter and, if he declines a $9.7 million player option, spring-loaded swingman Derrick Jones Jr.
Anfernee Simons hasn't made the leap many hoped to see. Nassir Little remains rough around every edge. The Lillard-McCollum backcourt is as vulnerable as ever defensively. Jusuf Nurkic might've lost a step amid an unlucky run of injuries.
The Blazers probably still won't self-detonate, but the list of reasons to seriously consider it isn't going away. In fact, that list is growing.
San Antonio Spurs
The expiration date on the San Antonio Spurs' push for maximum competitiveness arguably arrived the second Kawhi Leonard requested out of the Alamo City in 2018. But like that carton of milk lingering in a refrigerator past its recommended life, the Spurs looked past the warning signs and tried squeezing out every last drop.
The supply is about to run dry this summer, though. Unrestricted free agency awaits top scorer and primary distributor DeMar DeRozan. Also set for unrestricted free agency are three-point threat Patty Mills, instant-offense reserve Rudy Gay and occasional spot starter Trey Lyles.
7San Antonio should use the relatively clean slate to start fresh.
"The Spurs...are on the dawn of a new financial era," The Athletic's John Hollinger and Sam Amick wrote. "Between [LaMarcus] Aldridge, DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills and Trey Lyles, they have a combined $78 million coming off the books."
The cupboards aren't entirely empty. Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Jakob Poeltl have already inked their first post-rookie deals. Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker IV and Devin Vassell seem locked into the long-term nucleus as well.
But while top-shelf contenders trot out dynamic duos or (if they're lucky) big-three trios, the Spurs are on the hunt for a single centerpiece. They have complementary components in place, but beyond flashes from Murray and White, there isn't much hope of having a needle-mover in the mix.
Swapping out Leonard for DeRozan delayed the franchise's demise, but it won't allow this team to avoid the inevitable.
The heavy-lifting portion of the rebuilding process will commence in earnest this offseason. The financial flexibility creates some options, but a quick fix is unlikely in the cards. The free-agent pool shallowed considerably with a wave of early extensions, and even if it hadn't, San Antonio has never been a prime destination for elite free agents.
The Washington Wizards have at least $116.2 million committed to next season's payroll. They could have as much as $120.3 million on the books for 2022-23 already.
Shouldn't all that money afford something more substantial than this?
The Wizards might have this season's scoring champ in Bradley Beal—though Stephen Curry is putting up an incredible fight—and they're getting almost nightly triple-doubles out of Russell Westbrook. Care to guess how far that has gotten them? They're tied for 10th in the Eastern Conference standings and have the East's worst record against conference opponents (9-23).
The Wizards are 2.1 points worse per 100 possessions with Westbrook than without. Owing him $44.2 million next season (with a $47 million player option for 2022-23) feels like cruel and unusual punishment for the basketball gods. They're losing Beal's floor time by an average of 3.1 points per 100 possessions. The 27-year-old's prime years are being wasted.
They have a few decent prospects working their way through the pipeline—Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant, Deni Avdija and Daniel Gafford—but where's the future star in this group? More importantly, who's the player who can even approach that level before Beal moves past his prime?
As much as the Wizards are trying to make this work with Beal, they need the kind of rebuilding tools they can't access without trading away their star guard. They look like they're trying to build enough speed to hop on the treadmill of mediocrity without falling off. That's no way for an NBA franchise to exist.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.